The Observer’s Sweet 16 No. 1 team, southeast Charlotte’s Ardrey Kell High, is also the No. 1 seed in the western half of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A boys basketball playoffs.
The nationally ranked Knights (22-1) will start postseason play Tuesday night at home against No. 32 seed South Caldwell (3-19). Mecklenburg County schools received the top three seeds in the west. Southwestern 4A champ Butler (21-2) is No. 2 and wil play No. 31 Skyland Roberson (7-15) Tuesday. MECKA 8 champ West Charlotte (20-3) is the No. 3 seed. The Lions will play No. 30 Mooresville (12-10).
For Ardrey Kell, ranked No. 43 in USA Today’s national poll, being the overall No. 1 is rare air. The Knights have never reached the state championship before. With seven seniors on the roster, including guard Steven Santa Ana who may be the best player in school history, Ardrey Kell coach Mike Craft said he knows this is his team’s best ever chance to win a ring.
“We’re going to go cliché here, but we’re going to take it one game at a time,” Craft said. “This time of year, you survive and advance. We’ve got to get prepared for each game. The first game on our minds is South Caldwell. And who knows how we’ll play after an 11-game layoff? We got some rest, but I’m not sure how it will affect our timing.”
A severe ice storm in the Charlotte area ultimately forced postponement of the SoMeck 8 conference tournament. Craft said there was talk of trying to play the tournament Thursday-Saturday but added that was glad conference officials decided against it. The NCHSAA said it was fine for leagues to finish tournaments Saturday, but those results would not affect playoff seedings.
“I’m glad we did not play on Thursday,” Craft said. “We hadn’t practiced, so we had lost our wind a little bit. And in the long run, if you can make a run, it’ll be to your advantage to not play three games in three day this week then turn around and play three games in five days next week.”
The NCHSAA playoffs will start Tuesday and continue Thursday with sectional finals on Saturday. The N.C. Western Regionals are March 3-7 in Winston-Salem. Teams will need to win regional semifinals and regional finals to make the state championship game March 14 in Chapel Hill.
At Ardrey Kell, that last game’s the goal.
“I hope we get there,” Craft said, “but there’s a lot of good teams in our way with a lot of great players. Collectively, we’ll have to play well. It’ll take a total team effort. I don’t think we’ve got one player that’s head and shoulders above all the other like (Hough’s) Luke Maye (a North Carolina recruit). Collectively, we’ve got a good team and we play well togther. That’s what we’ve got to lean on.”